Seminary students at Princeton University were asked to give a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan. They needed to walk about 10 minutes from one building to another to give the talk. On their way, they each passed by a study confederate slumped and groaning in a passageway. 60% of the students who had plenty of time to get to their destination stopped to offer help to the stranger, but when the students were running late, only 10% stopped to offer help.
Being late, being over-busy, can derail even our most sincere intentions to be kind, caring, compassionate, to ourselves and to other people. (And there are so many research studies now demonstrating that practicing kindness and compassion clearly increases our sense of happiness and well-being. Emma Seppala, associate director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Educarion (CCARE) at Stanford University, says we are moving toward a world in which the practice of compassion is understood to be as important for health as physical exercise and a healthful diet.)We may notice later; we may regret later, we can set an intention to be more intentional about moving our lives in the direction of being more kind, more compassionate. But it can be very helpful to cultivate the habit of taking time out, many times a day, to pause and remember to notice opportunities to cultivate kindness and compassion. Here is an exercise to strengthen your capacity to remember to remember, and increase the self-compassion you can offer yourself even in a very, very busy life.
1. Several times a day, stop whatever you’re doing… pause… and ask yourself: What am I experiencing right now? Right now, in this moment? Take a few breaths, become interested and curious, and allow whatever you’re experiencing to register in your consciousness.
2. In this pause, ask yourself, with genuine care and concern, “Is there any suffering here?” Notice any uneasiness, any discomfort, any contraction in your body or psyche. (Including, perhaps, a concern that you’re taking time out of a project or obligation or deadline to focus on yourself and your own needs for centeredness and well-being.)
3. Notice your experience, especially any discomfort or unease in your experience, and take just a moment to offer yourself genuine care and concern for yourself in the experience of this unease.
“Oh! Ouch! This is stressful. This hurts. This is a moment of suffering.”
4. Place your hand on your heart or cheek or any place on your body that feels comforting and soothing. Feel the warm touch of your hand on your heart center and say “Oh, sweetheart!” or “I care about this!” or whatever words feel appropriate to acknowledge your own caring for yourself. You’re activating your own caregiving for yourself – thus activating the oxytocin in your body-brain that can immediately calm down any stress response in your body.)
5. Say a few words of self-kindness and self-compassion that might allow you really receive your own care for yourself:
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I be safe; may I be strong.
May I accept myself, just as I am in this moment.
May I give myself any compassion I need.
6. Take a moment to take in a savor the kindness and care you are offering yourself. Allow your state of mind, your state of being to shift to more openness, more groundedness again. Take another moment to reflect on this experience; notice any shifts in perspective that have occurred. It is very likely you have shifted into a mind-state that allows you to accomplish the very tasks and challenges you took a break from with more ease and more effectiveness.
When you pause for a self-compassion break, you may discover there isn’t really any suffering to attend to, and you return to your work a happy camper. When you do cultivate the habit of becoming aware of your own experiences, and offer yourself a moment of self-compassion for any difficulties you are experiencing, you become far more resilient in meeting the disappointments and dilemmas of your own life, and far more likely to value taking the time to offer care and concern and help to others.
For more exercises and meditations on self-compassion, visit Kristin Neff’s website: www.self-compassion.org.